Thursday, 31 July 2014

NZIFF Film Review: "Enemy" (2013).




For my ninth entry for the NZIFF, I have watched the strikingly eerie and mind-twisting movie Enemy. “The last thing you need is meeting strange men in hotel rooms. You already have enough trouble sticking with one woman, don't you?” This sums up the whole premise of this Canadian psychological thriller film directed by Denis Villeneuve; loosely adapted by Javier Gullón from José Saramago's 2002 novel The Double. The story follws a man who seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie.

Gyllenhaal meets Gyllenhaal in this eerie and hypnotically baffling doppelganger tale from the director of Incendies (2010) and Prisoners (2013). Adam (Gyllenhaal) is a Toronto history professor, a bit frayed around the edges and apt to drift in and out of focus, whether with his students and/or his girlfriend (Laurent). Much like Jesse Eisenberg's character in The Double. One night, Adam dreams that he saw himself in a movie he watched earlier that evening. He takes a closer look, and sure enough, there he is in a tiny part, identified as Daniel, his real name being Anthony. We follow Adam as he stalks and eventually confronts the actor. It turns out, he is not just a look-alike but an exact replicant as well, one who's differently abled. Sleek, vital and with a heavily pregnant wife (Gadon), Anthony might be Adam's opposite. Mutual by comparison, in which the two women become unwitting adjudicators, soon thickens into mutual intolerance and dread. The mind games that ensue are played out in an eerily stylized near-future city where the very air seems pumped in from an alien planet.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as two characters, Mélanie Laurent, Isabella Rossellini and Sarah Gadon. The performances in this film were all superbly portrayed, especially the two roles of Gyllenhaal are just as brilliant as they feel so individual. He was captivating as Adam and Anthony. He captures the confusion of a timid man thrown into a world of danger, paranoia and temptation with frightening veracity. Gyllenhaal may have been the highlight, but I felt as though the women in this film, as unique and as brilliantly played as they are, they were underused and were merely the unwilling and tortured adjudicators of this game between Adam and Anthony.

Bracingly intense, enticing, and wildly melodramatic, Enemy glides on Denis Villeneuve’s smart direction—and a strong performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. The film is already set to be one of the year's most love-it-or-hate-it movies. It’s wonderfully creepy, But it's not entirely satisfying; but it's infused with the director's usual creative brio, and it has a great dark gleaming look. It's a mesmerising psychological ride that builds to a gloriously theatrical tragic finale as both men’s worlds collide and crash. It is somewhat a lovely companion-piece to The Double (2014), in which both films explore two (or should I say four) characters in a mind-bending world in the search for identity and logical explanations. But unlike The Double, I would exactly classify this film as a work of art.

Simon says Enemy receives:


NZIFF Film Review: "The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness" (2013).





For my eighth entry for the NZIFF, I watched the fascinating and intimate documentary about the two legendary figures in Anime, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (夢と狂気の王国  Yume to Kyouki no Oukoku). “A year inside the world of Studio Ghibli”, this is what you’re going to get in this Japanese documentary directed by Japanese filmmaker Mami Sunada about Studio Ghibli’s two founding directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. The documentary shows us the lives of the two directors over the span of a year during the production of their two films, The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ Kaze Tachinu) and The Tale of Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫の物語  Kaguya Hime no Monogatari).

This visit to Studio Ghibli proves gratifying as it is to have the pleasure to watch the films produced there. The place even looks like a Miyazaki movie, with its natural imagery, ship-styled windows, all-knowing cat and rooftop billowing lawn. In the film, we see Miyazaki himself working on, what is sadly now known as his last film, The Wind Rises. The film takes a look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II. We see Ghibli as a studio where he personally storyboards the entire film from beginning to end, and where is dedicated and talented group of artists painstakingly draw each frame by hand, is cluttered, open and conspicuously lacking any new modern technologies. Meanwhile, in the south, Ghibli's other maestro Takahata is struggling with his fifth and latest film, his first film in thirteen years, The Tale of Princess Kaguya. The film explores the story of the title character from when found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter and his wife, to when she grows rapidly into an exquisite young princess. Their producer and co-founder Toshio Suzuki shuttles between the two, managing their distinct styles and approaches with the same amount of obvious love and a shrewd appreciation of the challenges he faced. Relationships among these three men lie at the heart and soul of Japan's most creative and successful enterprise, and director Mami Sunada traces Ghibli's evolution accordingly. Miyazaki himself is fascinating and irresistible, impish at one moment, the next moment melancholic - notably when contemplating the meanings of his film. His insistence on traditional decorum proves no impediment to spiky candour. He is a completely captivating genius.    

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness does probe as deep and tells as many hard truths as it should, but Mami Sunda's look at Studio Ghibli's two legendary founders offers a fascinating and surprisingly intimate and personal glimpse into their lives as well as the studio's. There is nothing short of a giddy delight in watching the fine folks who founded Studio Ghibli living out their dreams in ways much larger than even they could ever have imagined. Sunada had the gumption to pop open Studio Ghibli's hood and explore the mechanics, and ultimately created something warmly nostalgic, uplifting and modern at the same time.

Simon says The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness receives:


Monday, 28 July 2014

NZIFF Film Review: "The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet" (2013).




For my seventh entry for the NZIFF, I have watched the quirky and charming adventure from Frances most imaginative director The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet. “Dear Spivet family, I have gone for a while to do some work. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. I didn’t want to bother you by telling about it ahead of time. Thank you for taking care of me. You are one of the best families in the world. Love, TS.” This what you’re going to expect when watching this is fantasy adventure by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, based on the book The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, written by Reif Larsen.

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is the debut novel by American author Reif Larsen, first published in 2009. The book follows the exploits of a 12-year old mapmaker named T.S. Spivet, who lives on a ranch near Divide, Montana, as he receives a prestigious award and accepts it, hitch-hiking on a freight train for the acceptance speech in Washington D.C.. The book is noteworthy for its unique design; the plot-line is illustrated with images which further the narrative by providing charts, lists, sketches, and maps accompanying each page, mirroring T.S.'s cartographic interests and his minute attention to detail.

The film stars Kyle Catlett, Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Davis, Callum Keith Rennie and Dominique Pinon. The performances in this film were all quirky, comical, individual and dramatic as it is typical of a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film. Carter gives a brilliantly quirky performance, reminiscent to her roles in Tim Burton’s films. Rennie gives a brilliant performance reminiscent of the classical cowboy archetype associated in Western movies: stoic and silent. And a great little cameo from one of Jeunet’s collaborators Pinon. Who gives an eccentric, whimsical yet terrific performance as always. But the true credit goes to new-comer Kyle Catlett who carried this picture forward as the film's plot focused mostly on him. If TS had been played by any other little boy, he would not have affected us as mightily as it did.

The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet is a sprightly confection of oddities, attractively eccentric, witty and strangely clothed. It captures the texture of childhood, the sense of yearning to do adventurous things. It is one of the year’s best, with crossover potential along the lines of Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and Micmacs (2009). Given its quirky heart, it might well surpass them all. Its whimsical, free-ranging nature is often enchanting; the first hour, in particular, is brimming with amiable, sardonic laughs. The film is a winning blend of sophistication and silliness. It is also a feel-good film, perhaps for moviegoers who have bamboo under their fingernails. If you are miserable, then this is the film for you. The film is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s best live-action feature because it takes as its primary subject matter of an odd, genius child, rather than the damaged and dissatisfied adult that he will one day become.

Simon says The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet receives:


NZIFF Film Review: "The Tale of Princess Kaguya" (2013).




For my sixth entry for the NZIFF, I have watched the beautifully striking animated film from the great Isao Takahata, The Tale of Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫の物語 Kaguya-hime no Monogatari). “From the creators of The Wind Rises, Grave of the Fireflies and Spirited Away” brings you this unique Japanese animated film produced by Studio Ghibli, and directed and co-written by Isao Takahata, based on the folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. This is Takahata's fifth film for Studio Ghibli, and his first in 14 years since his 1999 feature, My Neighbors the Yamadas.

The film is based on a 10th-century Japanese folktale. It is considered the oldest extant Japanese narrative and an early example of proto-science fiction. The story goes like this:

One day, while walking in the bamboo forest, an old, childless bamboo cutter called Taketori no Okina (竹取翁, "the Old Man who Harvests Bamboo") came across a mysterious, shining stalk of bamboo. After cutting it open, he found inside it an infant the size of his thumb. He rejoiced to find such a beautiful girl and took her home. He and his wife raised her as their own child and named her Kaguya-hime (かぐや姫 accurately, Nayotake-no-Kaguya-hime "princess of flexible bamboos scattering light"). Thereafter, Taketori no Okina found that whenever he cut down a stalk of bamboo, inside would be a small nugget of gold. Soon he became rich. Kaguya-hime grew from a small baby into a woman of ordinary size and extraordinary beauty. At first, Taketori no Okina tried to keep her away from outsiders, but over time the news of her beauty spread.

Eventually, five princes came to Taketori no Okina's residence to ask for Kaguya-hime's hand in marriage. The princes eventually persuaded Taketori no Okina to tell a reluctant Kaguya-hime to choose from among them. Kaguya-hime concocted impossible tasks for the princes, agreeing to marry the one who managed to bring her his specified item. That night, Taketori no Okina told the five princes what each must bring. The first was told to bring her the stone begging bowl of the Buddha from Nepal, the second a jeweled branch from the island of Hōrai, the third the legendary robe of the fire-rat of China, the fourth a colored jewel from a dragon's neck, and the final prince the cowrie which was born from swallows.

Realizing that it was an impossible task, the first prince returned with an expensive bowl, but after noticing that the bowl did not glow with holy light, Kaguya-hime saw through his deception. Likewise, two other princes attempted to deceive her with fakes, but also failed. The fourth gave up after encountering a storm, while the final prince lost his life in his attempt.

After this, the Emperor of Japan, Mikado, came to see the strangely beautiful Kaguya-hime and, upon falling in love, asked her to marry him. Although he was not subjected to the impossible trials that had thwarted the princes, Kaguya-hime rejected his request for marriage as well, telling him that she was not of his country and thus could not go to the palace with him. She stayed in contact with the Emperor, but continued to rebuff his requests and marriage proposals.

That summer, whenever Kaguya-hime saw the full moon, her eyes filled with tears. Though her adoptive parents worried greatly and questioned her, she was unable to tell them what was wrong. Her behaviour became increasingly erratic until she revealed that she was not of this world and must return to her people on the Moon. In some versions of this tale, it is said that she was sent to the Earth as a temporary punishment for some crime, while in others, she was sent to Earth for her own safety during a celestial war. The gold that Taketori no Okina had been finding had in fact been a stipend from the people of the Moon, sent down to pay for Kaguya-hime's upkeep. Kaguya-hime goes back to the Moon

As the day of her return approached, the Emperor sent many guards around her house to protect her from the Moon people, but when an embassy of "Heavenly Beings" arrived at the door of Taketori no Okina's house, the guards were blinded by a strange light. Kaguya-hime announced that, though she loved her many friends on Earth, she must return with the Moon people to her true home. She wrote sad notes of apology to her parents and to the Emperor, then gave her parents her own robe as a memento. She then took a small taste of the elixir of life, attached it to her letter to the Emperor, and gave it to a guard officer. As she handed it to him, the feather robe was placed on her shoulders, and all of her sadness and compassion for the people of the Earth were forgotten. The heavenly entourage took Kaguya-hime back to Tsuki-no-Miyako (lit. "the Capital of the Moon"), leaving her earthly foster parents in tears.

The parents became very sad and were soon put to bed sick. The officer returned to the Emperor with the items Kaguya-hime had given him as her last mortal act, and reported what had happened. The Emperor read her letter and was overcome with sadness. He asked his servants, "Which mountain is the closest place to Heaven?", to which one replied the Great Mountain of Suruga Province. The Emperor ordered his men to take the letter to the summit of the mountain and burn it, in the hope that his message would reach the distant princess. The men were also commanded to burn the elixir of immortality since the Emperor did not wish to live forever without being able to see her. The legend has it that the word immortality (不死 fushi, or fuji) became the name of the mountain, Mount Fuji. It is also said that the kanji for the mountain, 富士山 (literally "Mountain Abounding with Warriors"), is derived from the Emperor's army ascending the slopes of the mountain to carry out his order. It is said that the smoke from the burning still rises to this day.


An achingly sad fairy-tale fantasy film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is one of Studio Ghibli’s and Isao Takahata’s most profoundly beautiful, haunting works. It is an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation. Along with The Wind Rises, it is the best animated film of the year!

Simon says The Tale of Princess Kaguya receives:


Friday, 25 July 2014

NZIFF Film Review: "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter" (2014).





For my fifth entry for the NZIFF, I have watched the eerie and peculiar little film called Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. The film’s poster tagline reads “A Zellner Bros. adventure”, which is exactly what this American drama film is. Co-written and directed by David Zellner. The film tells the story of a jaded and lonely Japanese woman discovers a hidden copy of Fargo on VHS. She becomes convinced that the film to be a treasure map indicating the location of a large case of money buried and lost is in fact real and sets out to find it.

(*SPOILER ALERT!*) In the film Fargo (1996), Minneapolis car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is desperate for money. With help from Shep Proudfoot (Steve Reevis), an ex-convict and mechanic co-worker, Jerry is introduced to criminals Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare). After traveling to Fargo, North Dakota to meet the two men, Jerry hires them to kidnap his wife, Jean (Kristin Rudrüd), and ransom her for $80,000 to his wealthy father-in-law and boss, Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell). In exchange, Jerry will provide Carl and Gaear with a new 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera and half of the ransom money. However, Jerry secretly intends to tell Wade that the ransom demand is for $1,000,000 and keep most of the money for himself.

Meanwhile, Jerry has been trying to convince Wade to lend him money for a real estate deal. As Wade becomes interested in the investment, Jerry tries to call off the kidnapping, but he is too late as Carl and Gaear are already en route to Minneapolis and cannot be reached. As it turns out, Wade intends to buy the property himself anyway and give Jerry only afinder's fee. Meanwhile, Carl and Gaear arrive in Minneapolis and kidnap Jean, but on the way back to their cabin hideout, they are stopped by a state trooper outside Brainerd, Minnesota . When Carl's attempt to bribe the trooper fails and arouses suspicion, Gaear quickly kills the trooper. Moments later, a couple in a passing car witnesses Carl moving the trooper's body off the road and they drive away. Gaear chases after them until they swerve off the road, enabling Gaear to kill them.

Jerry contacts Wade and Stan Grossman (Larry Brandenburg), Wade's accountant, claiming that the kidnappers insist on dealing only with Jerry. Wade and Stan accept this arrangement at first, but Wade later changes his mind and decides to deal with the kidnappers himself. Also, Carl angrily demands that Jerry give him and Gaear the entire $80,000 ransom as extra payment for the murders. Later, Carl, furiously, phones Jerry and demands he make the drop off that night at a parking garage. However, Wade, who was eavesdropping on their conversation, storms out in Jerry's place with the ransom in his briefcase. When he arrives, Wade refuses to hand over the briefcase to Carl until Jean is returned. Angered by Wade's demands and unexpected appearance, Carl kills Wade, but Carl is shot in the cheek by Wade. Jerry arrives at the scene's aftermath and puts Wade's body in his trunk. The next day, Carl discovers that the briefcase contains $1,000,000. He removes $80,000 to split with Gaear and buries the rest in the snow alongside the highway, marking the spot with an ice scraper.

One of the best films I've ever seen and a film like Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is one of the reasons why I love the movies. The trick which the Zellner Brothers have pulled is a combination of American cinema meets Eastern vibe.

Simon says Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter receives:


NZIFF Classic Film Review: "The Lady from Shanghai" (1947).





For my fourth entry for the NZIFF, I have watched the Orson Welles classic The Lady from Shanghai. The opening lines “When I start out to make a fool of myself, there's very little can stop me. If I'd known where it would end, I'd never let anything start... if I'd been in my right mind, that is. But once I'd seen her, I was not in my right mind for some time” sums up this 1947 film noir, directed by and starring Welles. As well as his estranged wife Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane. It is based on the novel If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King.

In the summer of 1946, Welles was directing a musical stage version of Around the World in Eighty Days, with a comedic and ironic rewriting of the Jules Verne novel by Welles, incidental music and songs by Cole Porter, and production by Mike Todd, who would later produce the successful film version with David Niven. When Todd pulled out from the lavish and expensive production, Welles financed it. When he ran out of money and urgently needed $55,000 to release costumes which were being held, he convinced Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn to send him the money to continue the show and in exchange Welles promised to write, produce and direct a film for Cohn for no further fee. As Welles tells it, on the spur of the moment, he suggested the film be based on the book a girl in the theatre box office happened to be reading at the time he was calling Cohn, which Welles had never read. However, according to the daughter of William Castle, it was her father who had purchased the film adaptation rights for the novel and who then asked Welles to pitch it to Cohn, with Castle hoping to receive the directoral assignment himself. She described her father as greatly respecting Welles' talents, but feeling nonetheless disappointed at being relegated to serve merely as Welles' assistant director on the film. 

The Lady from Shanghai began filming on 2 October 1946, and originally finished filming on 27 February 1947, with studio-ordered retakes continuing through March 1947 - but it was not released in the U.S. until 9 June 1948. Cohn strongly disliked Welles's rough-cut, particularly what he considered to be a confusing plot and lack of close-ups (Welles had deliberately avoided these, as a stylistic device), and was not in sympathy with Welles's Brechtian use of irony and black comedy, especially in a farcical courtroom scene. He also objected to the appearance of the film - Welles had aimed for documentary-style authenticity by shooting one of the first major Hollywood pictures almost entirely on location (in Acapulco, Pie de la Cuesta, Sausalito and San Francisco) using long takes, and Cohn preferred the more tightly-controlled look of footage lit and shot in a studio. Release was delayed due to Cohn ordering extensive editing and re-shoots by his assistants at Columbia, who insisted on cutting about an hour from Welles's final cut. Whereas Welles had delivered his cut of the film on time and under budget, the reshoots he was ordered to do meant that the film ended up over budget by a third, contributing to the director's reputation for going over budget. Once reshoots were over, the heavy editing ordered by Cohn took over a year to complete. Welles was appalled at the musical score and particularly aggrieved by the cuts to the climactic confrontation scene in an amusement park funhouse at the end of the film. Intended as a climactic tour-de-force of editing and production design, the scene was cut to fewer than three minutes out of an intended running time of twenty. As with many of Welles's films over which he did not have control over the final cut, the missing footage has not been found and is presumed to have been destroyed. Surviving production stills show elaborate and expensive sets built for the sequence which were entirely cut from the film.

Welles cast his wife Rita Hayworth as Elsa and caused controversy when he made her cut her famous long red hair and bleach it blonde for the role. In addition to the Columbia Pictures studios, the film was partly shot on location in San Francisco. It features the Sausalito waterfront and Sally Stanford's Valhalla waterfront bar and cafe, the front, interior, and a courtroom scene of the old Kearny Street Hall of Justice, and shots of Welles running across Portsmouth Square, escaping to a long scene in a theater in Chinatown, then the Steinhart Aquarium in Golden Gate Park, and Whitney's Playland-at-the-Beach amusement park at Ocean Beach for the famous hall of mirrors scene, for which interiors were shot on a soundstage. Other scenes were filmed in Acapulco. The yacht Zaca, on which many scenes take place, was owned by actor Errol Flynn, who skippered the yacht in between takes and can also be seen in the background in one scene at a cantina in Acapulco. The film was considered a disaster in America at the time of its release, though the closing shootout in a hall of mirrors has since become one of the touchstones of film noir.

The performances in this film were all superbly acted. The cast gave some of the greatest performances of their careers, especially with its two main stars - Welles and Hayworth. Welles gave a brilliant performance as Michael "Black Irish" O'Hara. Overwhelmingly and endlessly, Orson Welles shows fragments of his character, Michael "Black Irish" O'Hara, and invites us to examine him and see the entire story through his eyes. For Hayworth, her performance as Elsa "Rosalie" Bannister was one of the most interesting portrayals of the Femme Fatale architype. These two together on screen were a match made in heaven. However, sadly, not long after release, Welles and Hayworth finalized their divorce.

The Lady from Shanghai is one of the most interesting and technically superior films that has ever come out of the classic Hollywood system. It is staggering and belongs at once among the greatest screen achievements. However the rambling style used by Orson Welles has occasional bashes on the imagination, particularly in the tricky backgrounds he uses to unfold the yarn, but effects, while good on their own, are distracting to the murder plot. It is one of the most unusual films I have ever seen. Yet it is one of the most brilliant films I have ever seen.

Simon says The Lady from Shanghai receives:


Thursday, 24 July 2014

NZIFF Film Review: "Jodorowsky's Dune" (2013).




For my third entry for the NZIFF, I have watched the fascinating documentary on one of the most infamous and legendary unmade film projects Jodorowsky's Dune. The poster’s tagline “The greatest science fiction movie never made” is what this American documentary film, directed by Frank Pavich, is all about. The film explores Chilean-French cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky's ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful and doomed attempt to adapt and film Frank Herbert's 1965 seminal science fiction novel Dune in the mid-1970s.

Dune is a 1965 epic science fiction novel by Frank Herbert. It won the Hugo Award in 1966, and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. Set in the distant future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which noble houses, in control of individual planets, owe allegiance to the Padishah Emperor, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides, whose noble family accepts the stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis. As this planet is the only source of the "spice" melange, the most important and valuable substance in the universe, control of Arrakis is a coveted — and dangerous — undertaking. The story explores the multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the forces of the empire confront each other in a struggle for the control of Arrakis and its "spice"

In 1973, film producer Arthur P. Jacobs optioned the film rights to Dune but died before a film could be developed. The option was then taken over two years later by director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who proceeded to approach, among others, Virgin Records, with the prog rock groups Tangerine Dream, Gong and Mike Oldfield before settling on Pink Floydand Magma for some of the music, artists H. R. Giger. Chris Foss and Jean Giraud for set and character design, Dan O'Bannon for special effects, and Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, David Carradine, Mick Jagger and others for the cast. Herbert traveled to Europe in 1976 to find that $2 million of the $9.5 million budget had already been spent in pre-production, and that Jodorowsky's script would result in a 14-hour film ("It was the size of a phonebook", Herbert later recalled). Jodorowsky took creative liberties with the source material, but Herbert said that he and Jodorowsky had an amicable relationship. The script was sent to all major film studios. "It was a great undertaking to do the script," Jodorosky says in the film. "It's very, it's like Proust, I compare it to great literature." However, the project ultimately stalled for financial reasons. The film rights lapsed until 1982, when they were purchased by Italian filmmaker Dino De Laurentiis, who eventually released the 1984 film Dune, directed by David Lynch. A segment explores how Jodorowsky's script was inspirational in later film productions, such as in scenes for the epic space opera Star Wars (1977), Contact (1997) or Prometheus (2012). 

A remarkable behind-the-scenes look at a movie that wasn't, Jodorowsky’s Dune is an incisive, entertaining document of the difficulties inherent in the moviemaking process. Sadly, the film offers a bittersweet reminder of what might have been and, most of all, what could have been. It offers a fascinating look at a lost sci-fi legend. It's the best documentary of the year!

Simon says Jodorowsky’s Dune receives:


Monday, 21 July 2014

NZIFF Film Review: "Under the Skin" (2013).





For my second entry for the NZIFF, I have watched the visually haunting and uncompromising thriller Under the Skin. Robbie Collin, of The Telegraph, said "This astonishing film will leave you at once entranced and terrified..." Which is exactly what this British-American science fiction art film, directed by Jonathan Glazer, somewhat delivers. It was adapted by Glazer and Walter Campbell as a loose adaptation of Michel Faber's 2000 novel of the same name. Set in northern Scotland, it traces an extraterrestrial who, manifesting in human form, as a mysterious woman drives around the Scottish countryside and seduces lonely men in the evening hours. Whom later she drugs and delivers to her home planet. Events lead her to begin a process of self-discovery.

Under the Skin is a 2000 surrealist novel by Michel Faber. The novel, which was Faber's debut, was shortlisted for the 2000 Whitbread Award. Director Jonathan Glazer decided to adapt Michel Faber's novel Under the Skin after finishing his debut film Sexy Beast (2001), but work did not begin until he had finished his second film, Birth (2004). He and cowriter Walter Campbell initially produced a script about two aliens disguised as farmers, with Brad Pitt cast as the husband, but progress was slow. Glazer eventually decided to make a film that represented an alien perspective of the human world and focused only on the female character.

The film stars Scarlett Johansson as the alien seductress who preys on men in Scotland. Johansson gave a powerful performance, but I fear that her entire performance would be diminished without the enthralling imagery to underscore it. Most of the characters were played by non-actors; many of the scenes where Johansson's character picks up men were unscripted conversations with men on the street filmed with hidden cameras. Glazer said the men were "talked through what extremes they would have to go to if they agreed to take part in the film once they understood what we were doing." For the man with neurofibromatosis, Glazer did not want to use prosthetics; to cast the role, the production team contacted the charity Changing Faces, which supports people with facial disfigurements. The role went to Adam Pearson, who had worked in television production; his suggestions about how Johansson's character could lure his character were used in the script.

In Under the Skin, Johansson is splendid as the inhuman heroine, but it is always Mr. Glazer's film, which is even technically more interesting than his last work. Among other devices, Glazer constantly uses what I assume to be a live hidden camera to capture and distort the narrative and character relationships within scenes, so that the disconnection between lives, and between people and environment, becomes an actual, literal fact. However, the film seems to be pornographic because of how it dehumanized the victims while highlighting the sufferings of Johansson. Ultimately, Glazer is a bad pornographer. In the end, the most ambitious effects were based on the alienating effect of Johansson’s character towards the audience, making it a poor choice for a film. It is also a film that doesn't exactly get under my skin, just on my nerves.

Simon says Under the Skin receives: